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Making an Indian village open defecation free

Nov 19, 2015

On the World Toilet Day, today, OneWorld South Asia, takes a closer look at the efforts being made at village level in Bihar for achieving ODF status.

New Delhi/Patna: Ahrauli village in Buxar, perched on the banks of the mighty Ganga in the north Indian state of Bihar is on its way to becoming open defecation free (ODF). Villagers here are taking their task of dissuading neighbours and fellow villagers from defecating in the open, very seriously.

For the residents of Ahrauli village in Buxar district, early mornings and late evenings these days bring a very different scene from what they have been used to since times immemorial. Every morning and evening, government officials, members of the Panchayat and some local people stop and dissuade fellow villagers from defecating in the open. Once this is done, they go to the open fields and the banks of the river Ganga to cover-up human excreta with soil. On the way to the river, they chat with people they encounter and share their knowledge and views about sanitation, hygiene and building toilets. For many in the village who actively oppose open defecation, this has become a daily routine over the past few months. A Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) banner in the village too proclaims the serious intent of the villagers and the government.

Pioneered by Dr Kamal Kar, a water and sanitation expert from the Community Led Total Sanitation Foundation (CLTSF), the CLTS campaign has been successful in discouraging many villages and communities from defecating in the open. The campaign has also generated a demand from these communities for constructing low-cost toilets in the village.

Ahrauli seems to be the next community on the verge of becoming open defecation free.  The frenzied construction activity in the village is clear to be seen. All throughout the day, tractors ply bricks and construction materials while masons are busy constructing hundreds of toilets on a war footing. The village has a target to meet - it wants to be declared open defection free on this World Toilet Day – November 19, 2015.

High ranking government officials are taking their job seriously. The District Coordinator for Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and officials from the Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) are in the village. The village headman Brij Kishor Upadhyaya himself is supervising the progress of the village in its march towards the ODF certification. Representatives of a local agency monitor the quality of toilets constructed by trained masons.

The Buxar district administration has sanctioned funds to construct toilets in each household and the district magistrate Raman Kumaris taking a keen interest in the initiative. To spur behaviour change and improve sanitation standards amongst its people, the Bihar government is contributing Rs 12,000 per household towards the construction of a toilet in the household premises.

The Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST) formed through a consortium of Care India, IPE Global and Options, UK have adopted the hard-hitting CLTS approach to educate villagers about the ills of open defecation. Advocacy experts from the team are sensitising villagers to crucial sanitation and hygiene issues through real demonstrations showing faecal matter and how house flies contaminate food and water with it. In highly graphic demonstrations, a CLTS facilitator puts human hair in excreta, takes it out and puts it in a glass of drinking water, urging people to drink the water! The reaction is obvious – everyone refuses. The facilitator then compares the six legs of a housefly to human hair that transmit bacteria to food.

Shashi Bhushan Pandey, a CLTS expert who works with BTAST, says: “People are shocked to see such demonstrations and many decide to construct toilets right after the CLTS session is over.”

Such in-your-face demonstrations work well in India, where, according to the UNICEF, 47 percent of the population defecate in the open. Bihar, one of the poorest states in the country, has a large percentage of people defecating in the open, leading to health challenges like diarrhoea, cholera, jaundice and malnutrition.

The success of the CLTS approach lies in its ability to effectively mobilise people and make it into a people’s campaign. The sanitation revolution in Ahrauli village is due to people’s participation and peer pressure. Efforts like these will have to be replicated across the country.

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